Nikolai Vasilevich Shelgunov

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Shelgunov, Nikolai Vasil’evich


Born Nov. 22 (Dec. 4), 1824, in St. Petersburg; died there Apr. 12 (24), 1891. Russian revolutionary democrat, journalist, and literary critic.

The son of a nobleman, Shelgunov graduated from the Forestry Institute in 1841 and joined the staff of the forestry department of the Ministry of State Domains. He became a professor at the Forestry Institute in the late 1850’s and produced a number of works on forestry.

Shelgunov made the acquaintance of M. L. Mikhailov in 1855. During a trip to London in 1858 and 1859, the two men met A. I. Herzen and N. P. Ogarev. Upon his return to Russia, Shelgunov became an associate of N. G. Chernyshevskii and contributed to the journals Sovremennik, Russkoe slovo, and Vek. He took part in the revolutionary movement of the 1860’s and, with Mikhailov, wrote the proclamation To the Younger Generation. He was also the author of the proclamation “To Russian Soldiers From Their Well-wishers,” which was not published. In his article “The Working Proletariat in England and France” (Sovremennik, 1861, nos. 9–11), Shelgunov familiarized the Russian public with F. Engels’ work The Condition of the Working Class in England.

In 1862, Shelgunov resigned his position and went to Nerchinsk Krai, where Mikhailov was serving a sentence of hard labor. As a result of an official investigation of the proclamations, Shelgunov was arrested in Irkutsk in March 1863. He was brought to St. Petersburg and imprisoned in the Aleksei Ravelin. At the end of 1864 he was exiled to Vologda Province, and until 1877 he lived as an exile in various provincial cities.

Shelgunov became a leading contributor to the journal Delo in 1866 and took on the duties of editor after G. E. Blagosvetlov died in November 1880. Arrested on June 28, 1884, for maintaining contacts with émigrés, Shelgunov was exiled to Smolensk Province for five years.

Between 1886 and 1891, Shelgunov published in the journal Russkaia mysl’ a series of articles entitled “Sketches of Russian Life.” In numerous articles on history, economics, and social relations, he called for a peasant revolution, which, he believed, could bring Russia straight to socialism, without going through capitalism. In his view, social progress depended on the struggle of the masses against exploitation. In the last years of his life Shelgunov, influenced by Marxism, moved toward an understanding of the leading role of the working class in the revolutionary movement. During the 1880’s he criticized Tolstoyism and the small deeds theory.

In his literary criticism Shelgunov upheld the principles of realism and civic responsibility. He discussed the problem of the positive hero and national character in literature and criticized the advocates of the theory of art for art’s sake.

Shelgunov’s funeral on Apr. 15 (27), 1891, turned into a large antigovernment demonstration, in which many thousands of people, including workers, took part.


Sochineniia, 3rd ed, vols. 1–3. St. Petersburg [1904].
Literaturnaia kritika. Leningrad, 1974.
“Vospominaniia.” In N. V. Shelgunov, L. P. Shelgunova, and M. L. Mikhailov, Vospominaniia, vol. 1. Moscow, 1967.
“Neizdannye stranitsy vospominanii.” Prometei, vol 2. Moscow, 1967.


Lenin, V. I. Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed. (See Index Volume, part 2, p. 485.)
Peunova, M. N. Obshchestvenno-politicheskie i filosofskie vzgliady N. V. Shelgunova. Moscow, 1954.
Esin, B. I. N. V. Shelgunovrevoliutsionno-demokraticheskii publitsist. Moscow, 1970.
Istoriia russkoi literatury XIX v.: Bibliografich. ukazatel’. Moscow-Leningrad, 1962.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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